Today is the second Kenny and Kylie Show podcast, which reminds me of one of the topics I briefly touched on a week ago when I was on the show. I’ve developed this theory over six months of blogging. People can discuss a controversial topic in a civil manner, end the conversation without agreeing with each other and not hate each other. In fact, they can walk away with a certain amount of mutual respect and understanding. Comments on my blog have proven this to me time and time again.
I’m left to wonder, can this phenomenon be transferred into a real life conversation? In either case, would the spread of this kind of understanding make any difference in our world?
Online, people are used to being impersonal. When they read a person’s comments on a topic, they add their own inflection and emotion. The original creator of a comment may have written it with passion that would make the words loud and forceful if spoken out loud, but a reader may interpret those words as questioning and unsure. Since none of us like to be screamed at, I’d bet most people read comments as if they had been spoken in a clam manner. You’re not yelling online unless you type in all caps, right?
Typing in all caps is actually a very good analogy for vocal yelling. Reading all-caps is more difficult than traditional text, especially if the caps last for a whole sentence or paragraph. In short, we are unlikely to pay attention to long text in all-caps and, even if we do choose to read it, we probably won’t comprehend what we are reading as well.
The same can be said for yelling in person. I don’t know about you, but I stop listening when someone screams at me. At that point, my options become limited. Someone who is screaming is unlikely to listen to anything more I have to say. I can choose to engage them, yelling right back, but what good would that do? Neither of us would truly be listening to each other. We certainly wouldn’t be respecting each other.
My other options in that moment are to find a way to defuse the situation or to simply walk away. The conversation ends without any respect or understanding added to the world. Any potential good that conversation may have generated is lost.
People recognize that typing in all caps, like yelling, is not an action that will gain them attention. As such, you’ll see most comments on blogs and news stories typed in regular text, even if they are meant to express anger. People rarely know how many people will pay attention to what they say online, but they all want the same thing: to be heard.
The funny thing is, no matter how passionately we type, our words will always be subject to the interpretation of the reader. Since people don’t enjoy being yelled at, comments a person may have yelled in real life are probably being read in a calm voice. Unlike yelling, this makes it more likely a person will actually listen and absorb the content. In this way, they are able to gain a better understanding of that commenter.
Occasionally, I’ll see conversations on my blog that go on for a long time. While every one of these conversations has not been filled with respect, I’d argue that most were. More than once I have engaged in conversations with commenters that end without reaching an agreement and without disrespecting each other.
All this conversation rarely makes it outside the two or so commenters engaged, so does any of this make any difference? If no one changed their opinion, what good is civil conversation?
I argue that it can make a huge difference. The example I used last week on the Kenny and Kylie show was the belief in God. This is a great example because people rarely have any amount of understanding or respect for people who think differently from them. In person and online, I have seen religious people attack non-believers and vice versa.
Part of this disrespect is born out of a lack of understanding. How could someone believe in something that can’t be proven or even seen? Likewise, how can someone believe life does not continue after this one, that this whole world is just random? Since neither of these perspectives will ever leave our world, the most important question to ask is how these two viewpoints can learn to respect each other?
Maybe you’ll think me idealistic and overly optimistic, but I think building mutual understanding and respect can have a huge impact on the world. Can you imagine a day where politicians try to manipulate people based on their fear and misunderstanding of another religion and have their plan fail? Could there be a world where enough of the population has respect for other religions not to buy the idea that religious dogma is reason enough to go to war?
When I talk about changing the world, I never speak of changing the world in my lifetime. I am talking about a world generations into the future. In this world, the number of people who understand how to respect opposing views outnumbers those who fear and yell at their opposers. It won’t be a perfect world and it probably won’t be completely peaceful, but I do think it will be better.
The more people who can respect people with opinions opposed to their own, the better our world will become.
Do you think building understanding between people who disagree with each other promotes a better world? Could you ever respect someone who thought differently than you? Are there any opinions that you find impossible to respect?